The Sisyphus of Jefferson Avenue
The MT interview with Tom Barrow
Published: July 24, 2013
MT: Regardless of the net in terms of population, most of the revitalization in those areas that you talked about: Corktown, Downtown, Midtown. What can you tell the people in the other neighborhoods what you could do to help improve the situations there?
Barrow: I think I’ve gotta tell the people out there in the community, out in the neighborhoods, which is where ordinary, everyday folks live, that, you know, I’m aware. I’m aware of your concerns about safety, I’m aware of your concerns about blight. I’m aware of your concerns about the businesses not coming back into there, and we’re going to address it. It’s been ignored for too long in favor of the other sections of the city. The other sections are going to do well, particularly under the new charter. They’re going to create their advisory councils, they’re going to do all those kinds of things. It’s the sections of the city that don’t have that available, that your mayor is going to be responding to now, as well as downtown. Not just downtown, but we’re going to respond to the whole city, and I’m going to resurrect that spirit that’s in it. Detroiters are resilient. They dig down deep, as they said this morning, they dig down deep. Detroiters are going to come back. Because their spirit is strong, and we’re resilient that way, and so I want them to know that I see it. That’s what my deputy mayor of small business development’s going to be about. We’re going to go to the churches, we’re going to have them break off a little piece of that collection every Sunday, we’re going to have them put it into a particular financial institution and make that little bit of money available as capital to grow a small business. That’s one of the biggest problems we have with our businesses — we don’t have access to capital. The banks are not lending to us, so when we have, for example, a supermarket over here that wanted to open up in Lafayette Park that was minority-owned, black-owned, it was a great venue. It had a nice, clean supermarket, nice clean well-paved parking lot. But not having access to capital, it couldn’t create and continue the inventory that it needed to function. As a result, you go in one time and they don’t have any Cheerios, or they don’t have Frosted Flakes, you don’t come back again. You go in one time and you have one row of rice, one row of something where there should be in every other place, three or four rows of it, you don’t come back again. And so it dies for lack of access to capital. I understand that as a business guy, and those are the kind of things we gotta do to resurrect the neighborhoods, re-establish that pride, enforce those ordinances, make it all happen. We’ve gotta make it rain.
MT: How important is it to foster regional cooperation with the county executives and surrounding counties?
Barrow: I think that’s essential, but let me talk about regional cooperation because I’m very big on that, I think we gotta cooperate. And I want us to cooperate, and I would certainly look for the opportunity to find a way where we can do it. But we’ve gotta do it from a commonality of respect. For example, we need a regional — some kind of way where we can have all the transportation stuff combined, so that people can get, efficiently, from point A to point B to get to their jobs. I understand that. Detroit’s bus system used to go as far north as Pontiac, as far east as Mount Clemens, as far west as Ann Arbor. That was changed under the Archer Administration in conjunction with, of course, Mike Duggan. I think that if we create some kind of system, let’s do it fairly. Let me say what I mean. If I create a regional transportation authority, which I guess the state and the conservatives have already done, if we’re going to put in assets, if we’re all going to put in money and we’re going to put in equal amounts of money, then we’re all equal, because we all put in the same amount of money. If, however, we’re going to put in assets and if I put in an asset that’s three times more valuable than the asset you put in, it doesn’t make sense, it’s not fair to then say that we’re going to share who’s going to run it or you’re going to have control over who’s going to run it when you put in substantially less than I put in. That’s just illogical, and nobody who was being fair would want that.
MT: What’s something we didn’t ask that you’d like to address?
Barrow:I hear people talking about Detroit — I hear people from the suburbs, they love this city. I want them to know that I realize they love this city. They love their old neighborhoods. They see them go down and they know it’s not the same as it was when they were growing up in it. The problem is that they don’t know how to express that love in such a way that it doesn’t create a defensive response. I think that that mayor of Detroit, the next mayor, has got to reach across the boundaries of the city. And we’ve gotta bring everybody together, and have a discussion on race. That’s just the reality of it. Detroiters need to know why people in the suburban communities see the city in the manner in which they do, and why they express it in the manner in which they do. And then the people across our boundary lines need to understand and talk with Detroiters and understand why we see things in the manner in which we do: why we are protective over Belle Isle, why we are protective over the city’s assets and jewels, why we have such a strong connection to the land. That conversation has to take place and it has to be engendered by somebody. I’m going to engender that conversation, because I think folks love it. I want them to understand us, and I think that we can work together, I think that we can build a region together. I think that we can cooperate together. But we gotta do it with mutual respect.
MT:We have a couple of lighter questions.
Barrow:I need something light.
MT:What three songs are always on your iPod?
Barrow:Well you want the truth on this one? Make sure that you record this: I don’t own an iPod. Secondly, I can’t name three records. I like classical music. I like square stuff. I like going to the museum. I like going to the Art Institute. I like going to a cabaret.
MT:OK. Do you have an all-time favorite movie?
Barrow:I don’t. … I can tell you what I used to like, what my favorite TV program was — it was the The F.B.I. with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. It came on at 8 p.m., and at 10 minutes to 9 p.m. They always got their man. … I remember all that, those are things that shaped my life because I wanted to be an FBI agent, I wanted to be a policeman. And that’s how I become an accountant, because you had to be an accountant or a lawyer to get into the FBI.
MT: So you wanted to be a do-gooder from the time you were a kid.
Barrow: I think that’s the way my parents raised me, but also Catholic upbringing. And you’re taught persistence. You don’t give up. You don’t give up easily, and I’ve been, goodness knows I’ve been beat down, and I remember when I went through the trials of my life, I remember sitting in the car afterward, and I remember crying, thinking, how could anybody think I would do something like this? How could anybody think that? And it always bothered me, that people would think that. Because I’m not like that. I get choked up over that now.
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